I’m Still Here, But “BarkingShaman” Isn’t – Here’s Why

I wrote my first entry for this blog ten years, four months, and ten days ago. That first entry was titled “Welcome to Notes from a Barking Shaman” and touched on the odd contradictions that have, and continue, to make up my life. I was in the midst of my cycle of death and rebirth ordeals, our puppy Lilu was just ten weeks old, and earlier that day I had finalized plans to give a presentation on Tourette Syndrome for an elementary school a few hours away.

My life today looks at once radically different and remarkably similar to the one I was living when I sat down to pen that brief introduction to my new blog.

Among the differences, which you may have noticed already, is that as of last night this website and blog are no longer called “BarkingShaman.com” and “Notes From A Barking Shaman” respectively. The change has been a long time coming, and in keeping with the best traditions of this blog, I want to take some time to address why those changes have been made.

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Why ‘Shaman?’ – A Joint Post With Del Tashlin

This is two essays in one. My partner and clansbrother Del and I decided to take on this heady topic together, as we have both similar and differing views on the subject. We have each been ridiculed, attacked, and disparaged because we use this title for ourselves, and it was one such letter I received that inspired this post. The first half are Del’s thoughts, followed by my own. Understand that any questions or comments you make to this version will be answered by me; if you wish to hear more from Del on the subject, you’ll have to go to his version at Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars to get his answers.

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On Not Keeping Up With the “Ravens”

I do not own a drum.

Ok, that’s not really a fair statement. I actually own two very nice drums, they just don’t do me any good. Part of my plethora of neurological issues is an automaticity and fine-motor control delay that makes it impossible for me to maintain a drum beat. I start off fine, but the processing delay means that each strike of the drumhead takes place little bit later than it should, sending me out of rythm within a short time.

For most people, not being able to use a drum would be a tiny footnote in life. However, for someone who publicly identifies as a shaman (or more properly, a shaman-magician) and spirit worker, not using a drum is a bit like being an accountant who’s bad at math.

Of course, the drum issue is just one of a raft of ways in which my Work differs from the common archetype of what it looks like to be a shaman, spirit worker, or magician.

Tashrisketlin’s Lady and Her greater servant Var are strikingly worldly. This is hardly unique to Them by the way, there are quite a number of spirits and deities whose connection to our modern world is deep and powerful, sometimes more powerful than Their connections to the world of our ancestors. Because above all else I am Her servant, shaman-magician and spirit worker, my own Work is influenced by Her worldliness, as are all Her servants in Tashrisketlin to one degree or another.

My typical way of addressing/interacting with my Patron would be more at home on a drilling rig than in a house of worship. Lacking the ability to create music myself, I have an intimate working relationship with my digital music player. And I get legitimate spiritual fulfillment from working on antique machinery.

Because my magic, spirit work, and shamanism doesn’t look like that of many of my friends and colleagues, it is easy for me to get a bit “lost” in terms of what I’m supposed to be doing with my Work. This was an issue I addressed just a couple of weeks ago in my post “Adrift and Looking for a Clue.”

We talk a lot in the spirit work world about getting outside confirmation of our Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG), and one way to accomplish that is to look at what other people are doing in their own practices. This is not a strategy that often brings success for me, in part because the circle of spirit workers I interact with has been a narrow one, and shrinking rather than growing.

Tashrisketlin has traditions, beliefs, and practices of our own. Unfortunately, rather than being proud of who we are as a Clan, and who I am as a magical and spiritual person, I’ve allowed myself to be, if not ashamed, certainly reticent to embrace our/my unique perspective and Work precisely because it didn’t “look” right. In this more than anything else, I feel that I’ve failed my Lady, my Clan, and myself.

It is desperately dangerous to look too deeply within oneself for direction. Down that road lies the hubris and madness that is a constant danger to people who do this kind of work. However, I’ve certainly gone too far down the opposite road, castigating myself into uselessness for not following a model that was never meant to be mine (or Tashriksetlin’s for that matter) to begin with.

Much of that desire springs from a need to be more “acceptable” in the eyes of other people, be them pagan or otherwise. As I mentioned in “Adrift…” my public spiritual and magical identity is a ceiling to how far I can take my professional work in the LGBT world, not to mention in my paying work (although in my current employment it’s actually an asset).

And I know that there are potential clients and students who are looking for a specific experience and aesthetic from a teacher, diviner, or shaman, that I can’t offer. Being someone with a tendency towards pessimism and depression, I’ve overly focused on those people, rather than the ones who’ve sought me out specifically because my perspective and skills are unlike those of anyone else I know who does this Work.

So over the next few months, I’ll be looking with new focus on just what I can and should be doing. And to start with I’ll be working hard to hear my gods without letting preconceptions clutter the signal.

Hey, if this shit was easy, anyone could do it.

Adrift And Looking For A Clue

There are days when I frankly have no clue whatsoever about what I’m doing.

Maybe I simply don’t have the right kind of faith, the right kind of relationship to deity, or maybe I’ve been delinquent on my payments and my god-phone has been shut off.

In the years since the dissolution of Asrik, Fire, and my partnership, I’ve frequently felt a lack of purpose or goal in my spiritual and magical work. Some of this was clearly driven by the faith-quake brought about by the complicated end of our relationship, (fun note: just as I was typing this sentence, REM’s “Loosing My Religion” came up on shuffle. Because subtlety isn’t really how my gods roll) although there was a lot more to it than that.

I spent a decade of my life working very hard in the pursuit of the aims that They had set me. First to become a dedicated and highly proficient magic and energy worker, and then to submit to, and persevere through the traumatic death and rebirth process that made me a shaman. Just before Asrik left, Fireheart and I both passed the final test to be consider Masters in our magical tradition (which is not the highest level of proficiency, but was a huge achievement). I came out the other side of my shamanic rebirth changed in ways that I’m still discovering, but confident that I had the tools and talents to begin working in earnest at the tasks the role entailed.

But then… nothing. Or so it seems at first blush.

 Just over two years ago we were given a clear directive from the Lady and Var: keep our heads down

That’s it. All She had to say on the subject, just keep our heads down.

There has been little of the familiar Work that shaped the preceding decade in the long intervening months. The vrescht that Tashrisketin claims here in Gorham has little need of our attentions, and while it doesn’t offer us much in the way of power, it meets our basic needs. There was some excitement for a couple of months when we were given a challenging magical task, one suitable for two Vreschtik masters, but once it was completed to the best of our abilities with the resources available to us, silence reigned again.

I journeyed to the Underworld a month ago, to the boarders of Helheim (I am forbidden from entering any boarded land of the Dead without escort) to carry a message. It felt good and right, but then the job was done and again I had no Work to do. Moreover, I know that I was rusty. No journey to the Underworld is safe, but this one was more dangerous for than it should have been for someone who always has one foot (or hand) in Death.

For his part, Fire’s task at the moment is personal, and deeply bound up in his own journey of destructive rebirth, as the hormones he takes weekly remake his body, and in many ways his mind as well, in to new patterns of being.

Into this silence, elements of the mundane world have flowed in. I have a paying (part-time) job that I love, and which puts me in a position to help shape and provide for spiritual/magical opportunities for a couple of thousand people a year (not that all of them avail themselves of said opportunities, but they are there). I’ve also slowly established a strong voice and position for myself as a blogger in the queer/LGBT community, something that feels incredibly important to me on a personal and spiritual level, but again doesn’t look anything like the “real” work my spirit-worker colleagues do.

Our relationship with our gods doesn’t look like a lot of people’s. In the absence of Work to do, keeping our heads down, we’ve often felt abandoned by Them. It doesn’t help that in many ways the community of spirit-work colleagues we once looked to for reciprocal support has largely shattered into jagged splinters that will cut you if you get to close. Aside from that loss of camaraderie, a lot of the Work we’ve done over the years has come out our interactions with other people and their gods. 

I had a meltdown this morning on the phone with my lover, fellow Clan member, and spirit-work colleague Del Tashlin. Fire lost his job yesterday, less than a week after he and I had gotten legally married, in part to provide for my health insurance needs. We’re facing more severe financial hardship than normal, and the physical, mundane things that make our lives feasible, like my glasses and his car are desperately in need of costly repairs. Some level of poverty has been our companion since our divorce from Asrik and the implosion of our failed design firm.

 And the truth is that I fucking hate it.

The overwhelming majority of my fellow-spirit workers I’ve talked to feel that poverty and deprivation are essential elements of being servants of the divine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for a Porsche in the driveway, although I doubt I’d say “no,” but I would love to not have to worry about our card being declined at the supermarket check-out line. Or lie awake at night wondering what the hell we’ll do if Fire’s right front wheel bearing catastrophically fails at 65mph.

Yet, for all that these things feel counter-productive to my spiritual health, the argument I’ve been hearing is that those very stressors are what makes one a spiritual being. The idea is that if our lives lacked these sorts of trials, we’d be distant from deity. Without the need to pray to the gods every time we get into Fire’s battered Toyota, the gods would not feel like imminent presences in our lives.

Which brings us back to having no clue whatsoever about what I’m doing.

I don’t know if what I’m doing with my life is in anyway right or not. If the Lady told me tomorrow to give up blogging for the LGBT community I’d be crushed, and something blossoming in me that I didn’t know existed before would die. But of course I’d do it, that’s the nature of being a godslave. Likewise, I’ve devoted a large amount of time and energy over the last several months to relearning my craft as a photographer, one of my first deep passions. I believe that I can serve Them through my art, although I’m not sure how, and photography just isn’t a medium we think of when the topic of sacred art comes up. If we have to sell off my camera gear to keep the lights on we will. But I find it hard to believe that doing so will make me a more spiritual person.

It’s very tempting to say:

My/our Work has never been conventional. Our relationship to our gods doesn’t look like other people’s. How we serve, and what They value in us has always been a bit different. Which isn’t to say that we’ve haven’t drifted a bit, but in general we’re where we’re on the path we’re supposed to be.

But because that is so tempting, it also is hard to accept. For all that we’re in a really rough spot at the moment, and I’m personally having some additional issues that I’m struggling with, there are a lot of ways in which we’re in a really good place in our lives. The idea that we’re clearly screwing up because our lives aren’t total shit is very hard for me to wrestle with. Which, it has been pointed out, may be the whole damn point of our current situation.

I’ll own up to this: there are clear ways in which I’ve let some of my Work slide. I know that there are some hard and scary things that I’ve not done in my Work because they are hard and scary. Baphomet has asked some things of me that I don’t know if it’s within me to do, and there is a final physical mark of my shamanic transformation that I’ve not gotten because it is so terrifying to me. Which is no excuse, particularly for an Ordeal Path shaman. But pushing through those deeply human places is one place where the power in Ordeal comes from.

There’s no way to talk about my failings without acknowledging that I’ve not had the level of public presence in my magical and spiritual capacities that They require of me. This is in part because of the potential damage it could do to other parts of my career (BAD WINTY – this is a great way to loose those parts of my life for good), but also in part because what I see in the broader pagan and polytheistic communities saddens and sickens me. The Lady hasn’t quite given us leave yet to stop keeping our heads down (though we have a timeline), and I don’t know that one can be involved in modern pagan discourse without stepping right into the line of fire. 

It’s funny, in the thirty five minutes it’s taken me to write this post, a lot of my perspective on what I had to say has changed.

I opened this document in part to write about the fact that I/we weren’t doing any Work and felt completely adrift. But as I typed, it became more and more evident to me that at least some of what we’ve been doing could be construed as Work of a sort, even if it looks different from what we might typically picture a shaman or magician doing.

As to the poverty question though, I just don’t know. I have deep respect for the value of asceticism, and believe it or not, there are ways that I work to incorporate those values in my own life and practices. However, the idea that one can best achieve a state of union with the divine through constant fear that the precarious infrastructure of daily life could come crashing down at the slightest nudge doesn’t ring true for my own spiritual self. Of course, that could just be my privileged upbringing speaking.

Likewise, while it’s possible that I could make a case to the government for getting on permanent disability, that has never felt like what I was supposed to do. Continued engagement of some (certainly unconventional) form of interaction with the working world and currents of monetary exchange feel like how I’m supposed to be living and practicing my faith and power. Again though, I perhaps lack the distance to see if that’s the ghosts of my upbringing or the tides of Wyrd speaking to my heart.

See early comment about my god-phone not getting such great reception I guess.